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Navigating the rough waters of adolescent depression in the age of Facebook

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Teachers, parents, and health care professionals grapple with the growing number of adolescent expressions of depression and suicide appear on Facebook.

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Adolescent depression is a serious issue, one that has only been complicated further by the emergence of internet outlets of expression, such as blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. The New York Times has profiled the growing sentiment, and research, that such expressions on Facebook should not be dismissed, but one which society, educators, and healthcare providers, must tread lightly. Facebook, for its part, began working with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline back in 2007, and troubling posts can be reported, with Facebook sending links to the person for online counsellors and the Suicide Prevention Lifeline's website.

More difficult questions arise, however. For instance, when someone posts a disturbing message to their Timeline, it is widely accepted as a cry for help, but how to respond is not immediately obvious. Another question teachers and health care providers grapple with is whether or not they should "friend" their students and patients, and what ethical challenges such a prospect proposes. Learning to distinguish when adolescents are just "letting off steam" or joking around from serious trouble is also another tendril in this exceedingly complex navigation. The reality, of course, is that these complicated questions are likely to persist and even deepen as social living becomes more ubiquitous.